LaVine feels fans' frustration, but there may not be a quick fix to Bulls' issues
The state of the Bulls is certainly less than ideal at the moment.
If they lose, the team is a mess. If they win, they're ruining the tank. Most fans would like to see some progress from the Bulls' main rebuilding blocks, though, and Zach LaVine is right there with them.
"It doesn't feel good going out there and being an underdog or teams disrespecting you and not looking at you as equal," Zach LaVine said Thursday at the Advocate Center. "Or even your fans, they start talking mess to you and stuff like that. You don't want to be on the court and have to deal with that. But you can pride yourself in trying to respond to it. I know do, at least."
It's not so much that LaVine blames the fans for being frustrated. He's just as anxious for things to turn around, but the Bulls are also trying to execute "Operation Zion" right now, which means keeping their lottery odds high for a chance to draft Duke's Zion Williamson.
"Eventually you're going to hit a high and a peak and start leveling out and getting consistent," LaVine said. "You want to know when that is. You wish you could look into the future and figure out what day and what pinpoint that would be, but nobody can do that. We're just going to have to find that on our own."
The Bulls snapped their 10-game losing streak in Cleveland on Monday, then turned around and lost by 20 at home to a 15-win Atlanta squad. When it came to execution and having multiple contributors, the Hawks seemed light years ahead of the Bulls' progress. Atlanta also brought some star power, with second-year power forward John Collins scoring a career-high 35 points.
"Atlanta, bottom-five team just like us, we shouldn't get blown out by them at all," LaVine said. "They were out there moving the ball, playing well with pace and that's what we should be looking like."
The Bulls should be more competitive, but they don't want to win too many games and lower their lottery odds. LaVine and coach Jim Boylen repeated a familiar list of excuses. They traded Justin Holiday, one of the only veterans on the roster, on Jan. 3 and lost rookie center Wendell Carter Jr. to thumb surgery last week.
They're undersized, adjusting to different lineups, changing coverages based on the strengths of the player. For example, Boylen said the Bulls are using a different defensive plan with Robin Lopez starting at center than they did with Carter. The confusion is evident.
LaVine shared an observation Lauri Markkanen used after the Atlanta game. Boylen focused on improving the defense when he became head coach on Dec. 3. Lately, he's tried to improve the offense and the defensive fundamentals have slipped.
"We're trying to be good at both," Boylen said. "We're not balanced right now. We have tried to play better offensively. We still do our defensive breakdowns. I think as much as it's emphasized, it's also personnel. We miss that big guy in the middle. He does a lot for us. Just his communication is powerful for our defense."
One of Boylen's favorite lines is he wants guys who take pride in the "Bulls" across their chest. LaVine was asked how much pride he felt in his 11-37 squad.
"It's pride in playing for the Bulls, but we have to make our name better," he said. "(In) the NBA, the things that's going on with us, we're looked down upon. That's not right, especially for a franchise of this stature."
Bulls vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 7 p.m. Friday at the United Center
TV: NBCSCH • Radio: WSCR 670-AM
Outlook: The Clippers (26-22) have been slumping, losing six of their last eight games, but they did win at Miami 111-99 Wednesday behind 31 points by SF Tobias Harris. ... Harris, who will be a free agent this summer, leads the Clippers at 21.0 ppg, followed by SG Lou Williams (18.5) and PF Montrezl Harrell (15.6). ... Second-leading scorer Danilo Gallinari has a back injury and is not on the trip. ... The Clips rank fifth in the league in scoring at 114.1 ppg. ... The Bulls have dropped five in a row in this series, three straight at home.
Next: Cleveland Cavaliers, 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the United Center
-- Mike McGraw